“Was it sponsored by Benson & Hedges?”: Viewers beat up Dennis Nilsen's serial killer drama … for smoking – after ITV's three-part drama Des, cigarettes were shown in 46 scenes
- Viewers complained about the number of cigarettes smoked by characters
- Cigarettes were smoked in 46 scenes of the three-part ITV drama Des
- They made up 13 minutes and 47 seconds and wondered if it was a record
In its grim drama about serial killer Dennis Nilsen, ITV did not shy away from the gruesome details of his horrific crimes.
However, some Des viewers have been impressed by the portrayal of a more mundane form of antisocial behavior – the amount of smoking shown on the screen.
Both David Tennant, who played the mass murderer, and Daniel Mays, the detective who held him prisoner, were rarely seen without a lit cigarette in their hands.
Some Des viewers were impressed with the portrayal of a more mundane form of antisocial behavior – the amount of smoking that is shown on the screen
In fact, 46 scenes featured cigarettes, which took 13 minutes and 47 seconds of screen time during the acclaimed three-part series. Viewers wondered if that was a record for a contemporary drama.
The acclaimed program, filmed in 1983, more than 25 years before the smoking ban in UK workplaces, showed Tennant smoking 14 cigarettes as Nilsen.
Line Of Duty star Mays, who played DCI Peter Jay, lit 23 cigarettes and started within five minutes of the series beginning.
Before the show aired, Mays said it was important for him to showcase a fully rounded picture of Jay, who died of cancer in 2018 at the age of 79. "When I met Peter's widow she said he drank 50 to 60 cigarettes a day, so he was a very, very heavy smoker," he said.
“You can really imagine that under the pressure of this police investigation and through the eyes of the media, he smoked even more. This was definitely a conscious choice I made so as not to be afraid of smoking on the screen. "
In front of the camera, the actor smoked not tobacco but rather "terrible herbal stuff" and was given an award for "most cigarettes smoked on screen" by the series director.
As Nilsen, the former Doctor Who Tennant smoked himself through a series of police interrogations and meetings with his biographer Brian Masters, played by Jason Watkins of W1A, who smoked eight cigarettes.
John Sutherland, an English professor at University College London, noted how DCI Jay "took smoking as a stress reliever while Nilson smoked as something stylish and then asserted dominance – and believed to hide the smell of rotting corpses."
As Nilsen, former Doctor Who Tennant smoked himself through a series of police interrogations and meetings with his biographer Brian Masters, played by Jason Watkins (pictured) of W1A, who smoked eight cigarettes
But Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey, defended the portrayal of smoking on the series.
He said, “Smoking was excessive at the time. I grew up a non-smoker and you expected to be enveloped in other people's smoke when you go to a restaurant or sit on a plane. Every movie in a cinema was seen through a smoke curtain. Looking back, I don't know how we can take it, but we didn't have a choice. The non-smoker was the unusual one. "
Others wrote, "You can get rude without the characters smoking in every scene" and "Just wondered if it was sponsored by Benson and Hedges." The only one who doesn't smoke is Nilsen's dog.
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